Close-ups and Long Shots in Modern Chinese Cinemas
Two of the most stylized shots in cinema—the close-up and the long shot—embody distinct attractions. The iconicity of the close-up magnifies the affective power of faces and elevates film to the discourse of art. The depth of the long shot, in contrast, indexes the facts of life and reinforces our faith in reality. Each configures the relation between image and distance that expands the viewer’s power to see, feel, and conceive.
To understand why a director prefers one type of shot over the other then is to explore more than aesthetics: It uncovers significant assumptions about film as an art of intervention or organic representation. Close-ups and Long Shots in Modern Chinese Cinemas is the first book to compare these two shots within the cultural, historical, and cinematic traditions that produced them. In particular, the global revival of Confucian studies and the transnational appeal of feminism in the 1980s marked a new turn in the composite cultural education of Chinese directors whose shot selections can be seen as not only stylistic expressions, but ethical choices responding to established norms about self-restraint, ritualism, propriety, and female agency.
Each of the films discussed—Zhang Yimou’s Red Sorghum, Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin, Jia Zhangke’s I Wish I Knew, and Wei Desheng’s Cape No. 7— represents a watershed in Chinese cinemas that redefines the evolving relations among film, politics, and ethics. Together these works provide a comprehensive picture of how directors contextualize close-ups and long shots in ways that make them interpretable across many films as bellwethers of social change.
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